Skip to main content

UNM METALS Superfund Research Program Center

Principal Investigator: Johnnye Lewis, PhD
Director of the UNM METALS Superfund Research Program Center
Research Professor, UNM College of Pharmacy


Research Interests

The UNM Metal Exposure and Toxicity Assessment on Tribal Lands in the Southwest (UNM METALS) Superfund Research Program Center, the first of its kind in the nation, is dedicated to studying the toxic effects of mixed metals and uranium exposure on tribal communities in the Southwest.

Years of mining waste on tribal lands has left Native Americans with numerous health problems. The health effects have been profound, and the center is conducting further research to determine the best methods for remediation of mine waste sites and risk reduction strategies within communities to help curb further exposure to the contaminants. The West is home to more than 4,000 uranium mines and some 160,000 abandoned hard rock mines. About 600,000 Native Americans live within 10 kilometers of the sites.

The center is funded through the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS grant #NIEHS 1 P42 ES025589).

Working with communities

Recognizing that complete remediation of these sites remains decades away, UNM METALS uses multi-directional Community Engagement and Research Translation Cores to develop and implement transgenerational approaches to risk communication and risk avoidance that integrate indigenous learning models (e.g., tribal ecological knowledge) and Western science.

The UNM METALS Center has developed partnerships with 3 Native American communities that live near waste sites:

  • Laguna Pueblo is adjacent to the 8,000-acre open pit Jackpile Mine, which is listed on the Superfund National Priorities List.
  • Two Navajo communities live near mines that are part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Congressionally mandated “Five-Year Plan to Address Uranium Contamination on the Navajo Nation.”

They are:

  • Red Water Pond Road adjacent to the North East Church Rock Mine
  • Tachee-Blue Gap community next to the Claim 28 waste site.


Avasarala S, Lichtner PC, Ali AS, González-Pinzón R, Blake JM, Cerrato JM. Reactive Transport of U and V from Abandoned Uranium Mine Wastes.Environmental science & amp; technology. 2017 November 7;51(21):12385-12393. PubMed PMID: 29017012; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5751750.

Harmon ME, Lewis J, Miller C, Hoover J, Ali AS, Shuey C, Cajero M, Lucas S, Pacheco B, Erdei E, Ramone S, Nez T, Campen MJ, Gonzales M. Arsenic association with circulating oxidized low-density lipoprotein in a Native American community. Journal of toxicology and environmental health. Part A. 2018 April 11;81(13):535-548. PubMed PMID: 29641933; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6042213.

Gonzales M, King E, Bobelu J, Ghahate DM, Madrid T, Lesansee S, Shah V. Perspectives on Biological Monitoring in Environmental Health Research: A Focus Group Study in a Native American Community.International journal of environmental research and public health. 2018 May 31;15(6). PubMed PMID: 29857506; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6025825.

Zychowski KE, Kodali V, Harmon M, Tyler CR, Sanchez B, Ordonez Suarez Y, Herbert G, Wheeler A, Avasarala S, Cerrato JM, Kunda NK, Muttil P, Shuey C, Brearley A, Ali AM, Lin Y, Shoeb M, Erdely A, Campen MJ. Respirable Uranyl-Vanadate-Containing Particulate Matter Derived From a Legacy Uranium Mine Site Exhibits Potentiated Cardiopulmonary Toxicity.Toxicological sciences : an official journal of the Society of Toxicology. 2018 July 1;164(1):101-114. PubMed PMID: 29660078; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6016706.

Hoover JH, Coker E, Barney Y, Shuey C, Lewis J. Spatial clustering of metal and metalloid mi xtures in unregulated water sources on the Navajo Nation - Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, USA.The Science of the total environment. 2018 August 15;633:1667-1678. PubMed PMID: 29669690; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6051417.

Dashner-Titus EJ, Hoover J, Li L, Lee JH, Du R, Liu KJ, Traber MG, Ho E, Lewis J, Hudson LG. Metal exposure and oxidative stress markers in pregnant Navajo Birth Cohort Study participants. Free radical biology & medicine. 2018 August 20;124:484-492. PubMed PMID: 29723666.PMCID 6381929

Bolt AM, Medina S, Lauer FT, Xu H, Ali AM, Liu KJ, Burchiel SW. Minimal uranium

accumulation in lymphoid tissues following an oral 60-day uranyl acetate exposure in male and female C57BL/6J mice.PloS one. 2018 October 24;13(10):e0205211. PubMed PMID: 30356336; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6200214.

El Hayek E, Torres C, Rodriguez-Freire L, Blake JM, De Vore CL, Brearley AJ, Spilde MN, Cabaniss S, Ali AS, Cerrato JM. Effect of Calcium on the Bioavailability of Dissolved Uranium(VI) in Plant Roots under Circumneutral pH.Environmental science & technology. 2018 November 20;52(22):13089-13098. PubMed PMID: 30412391; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6341987.

Gonzales, M., Erdei, E., Hoover, J., & Nash, J. (2018). A review of environmental epidemiology studies in southwestern and mountain west rural minority populations. Current Epidemiology Reports, 5(2), 101-113

Hoover, J., Erdei, E., Nash, J., & Gonzales, M. (2019).A Review of Metal Exposure Studies Conducted in the Rural Southwestern and Mountain West Region of the United States. Current Epidemiology Reports, 1-16.

Learn More

Johnnye Lewis, PhD, Research Professor
Office: 1000 Stanford Blvd., Suite 101, Albuquerque, NM
Phone: 505-272-8250